If you’re at all plugged into the indie music circuit, you’ve heard about (and likely attempted to get tickets for) Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service’s upcoming co-headlining tour. Both fronted by Ben Gibbard, 2023 sees both acts celebrating the 20th anniversary of a landmark album in their discography. For The Postal Service, Gibbard’s collaboration with producer Jimmy Tamborello and fellow vocalist Jenny Lewis, the anniversary happens to be of their only album: the indietronica masterpiece Give Up, released on February 19th, 2003.
Two decades in, the widely successful one-off project retains its endearing appeal. Tamborello’s electronic compositions, still engaging to this day, suit Gibbard’s highly melodic brand of indie songwriting as well as any of Death Cab’s rock tunes. Throw in the nostalgia of songs like the skittering “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” or the ubiquitous pop perfection of “Such Great Heights,” and it’s no wonder Give Up has maintained its relevance despite no proper follow-up and 10-year gaps in touring.
But before Give Up became a canonized work of the genre and Sub Pop’s second-best-selling release of all time (only bested by Nirvana’s Nevermind), it was simply the melding of a few friends eager to work together, following creativity as it came to them. It was the product of personal development, band dynamics, and a restlessly prolific period all aligning for a brief but potent time.
“Death Cab had kind of a reckoning on Halloween in 2001 where we almost broke up at the venue we were playing out in Baltimore,” Gibbard tells Consequence over Zoom about the period leading up to The Postal Service. “One of the things that I think we all realized was that we were just really burned out,” he continues, “At the risk of losing momentum, we realized we really needed time away. And it was that time away that allowed my mind to wander and kind of just be a person in the world and not necessarily a songwriter who’s actively trying to write a record because we have to be in the studio in a month. It just gave me a lot more room to experiment and fuck around.”
Being the sole songwriter for Death Cab at the time, part of that fucking around led to the demos that would become Transatlanticism. Another side to that fucking around, though, was allowing someone else in on the writing process.
“Everything that got written for Postal Service was a direct reaction to the music that Jimmy was sending me,” Gibbard recalls. “[It was] Jimmy sending me a CDR with some music on it, me putting it into Pro Tools, cutting it up, and writing specifically to that. There was never a moment where I was sitting on some brilliant song and thinking like, ‘Wow, is this gonna be a Postal Service or Death Cab song? Who’s gonna get this one?’ It was always like, ‘Jimmy sent me this music, and it seems to fit.’ The things he was sending were so evocative that it just allowed my mind to wander to places that it tended to not go when I was just sitting by myself working on music.”